For a long time now, there’s been a trend in the gaming industry where the focus often falls on multiplayer titles at the expense of single-player experiences. A recent interview with a former BioWare developer has shed light on why this might be. Unsurprisingly, a lot of it comes down to money.
Speaking on Waypoint’s podcast, Manveer Heir, a gameplay designer who was at BioWare for seven years and worked on Mass Effect 3 and Mass Effect Andromeda, says the shift toward multiplayer is simply a matter of monetization for the companies.
"It's definitely a thing inside of EA, they are generally pushing for more open-world games," says Heir. "And the reason is you can monetize them better. The words in there that were used are 'have them come back again and again'. Why do you care about that at EA? The reason you care about that is because microtransactions: buying card packs in the Mass Effect games, the multiplayer. It's the same reason we added card packs to Mass Effect 3: how do you get people to keep coming back to a thing instead of 'just' playing for 60 to 100 hours?"
BioWare owner EA recently announced the closure of Dead Space creator Visceral Games. Additionally, the in-development Star Wars game is moving away from a story-based, linear adventure into something “players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come.”
Many publishers now look at microtransactions as the best way to continually squeeze money from a game. Heir said he’s seen people spend $15,000 on Mass Effect multiplayer cards.
The problem is partly due to the spiralling costs associated with developing AAA games, and the need to recoup that expenditure.
"You need to understand the amount of money that's at play with microtransactions," he added. "I'm not allowed to say the number but I can tell you that when Mass Effect 3 multiplayer came out, those card packs we were selling, the amount of money we made just off those card packs was so significant--that's the reason Dragon Age has multiplayer, that's the reason other EA products started getting multiplayer that hadn't really had them before, because we nailed it and brought in a ton of money."
Heir said the Destiny-style multiplayer title Anthem, which is set to arrive on PC and consoles next year, is a prime example of how firms now prioritize games as a service. It’s also why Anthem looks so different from traditional BioWare output. He predicts that “the linear single-player triple-A game at EA is dead for the time being.”